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In this installment of his popular Masking & Compositing series, Photoshop guru Deke McClelland shows how to select hair—down to the individual strands—and composite portraits against new backgrounds. The course covers how to mask out hair, paint in detail, blend hair, merge channels, and match light sources. Deke also explores special techniques for working with both dark and light hair, as well as extracting hair from complex backgrounds.
In this exercise we are going to take our finished mask which we are currently seeing on screen and we are going to use it to composite the light-haired woman against a new background. I also have opened this image called Valley of Fire.jpg and we are going to go ahead and mask the image and introduce a new background blind. So we are going to essentially work the most efficient way possible. I just want you to see what that looks like and we are going to be taking advantage of the Apply Image command as well. So your first thing is to make sure that your final mask is the first alpha channel in the list so that it has a keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+6 or Command+6 on the Mac, and notice whichever alpha channel is on top, ends up getting that keyboard shortcut.
So if I just grab final mask, move it directly below blue, it's automatically Ctrl+6, again, Command+6 on the Mac. Now let's switch to the RGB image, and I will switch over to layers panel. We will not need to go back to the Channels panel now, because we are going to do everything from the keyboard. So double-click on the background item to bring up the New layer dialog box and we will call this layer WWF and click OK. Next press Control+Alt+6 or Command+Option+6 on the Mac to load up that first alpha channel as a selection outline, then drop down to the bottom of the layers panel, and click on the Add layer Mask icon.
So that's step number one. Step number two is to introduce the background image and we will do that by first creating a new layer below the active one. So press and hold the Ctrl+Alt keys or the Command+Option keys on the Mac and click on the little page icon at the bottom of the panel. Because you have the Alt or Option key down that invokes a New layer dialog box. Let's go ahead and call this later VOF or Valley of Fire and click OK, and thanks to the fact that you have the Ctrl or Command key down, when you click the page icon you end up creating the new layer below the previous one.
Now let's introduce Valley of Fire into this new layer by going up to the Image menu and choosing the Apply Image command. Notice its source. By default it's going to be set to the foreground image. You want to change it to Valley of Fire.jpg. In order for that to happen both of the images have to be exactly the same physical size, so they have to measure the same number of pixels wide and the same number of pixels tall just as my images do. So I'll go ahead and choose Valley of Fire, the image also has to be open, by the way; Next, you want to change the Blend mode to anything besides Add or Subtract, even something as wacky as Hard Mix is just going to plop the image down there.
Presumably you would want to use the proper mode which would be Normal, but you're going to get exactly the same effect. Make sure Opacity is set to 100%, your Channel should be set to RGB, so you're loading in the full color composite image, and all of the checkboxes should be turned off. Then go ahead and click OK in order to add the image. That really is the most expedient way to composite an image against a different background, but because I narrated the entire thing that might've gotten lost in the shuffle. So I am going to press the F12 key and I'll just run through the steps very quickly here so that you can get a sense without me narrating what's going on how quickly I can actually create this composition and how quickly of course you can go ahead and create such a composition as well.
Final step is to go up to the Apply Image command and click OK. So it really is a matter of a few seconds once you have a mask in place in order to create a full-fledged composition. Now the composition does need some work. I will go and zoom in over here, on the right-hand side, you can see that next to these nicely masked blonde hairs, we have this unnatural dark edge and we are going to get rid of that edge using a special technique that relies on the screen mode, but is very different from anything we've seen so far, in the next exercise.
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